Entrepreneurship: A Framework for Community College Leaders

Posted By: Dr. Rebecca Corbin Publicity,

Please note: This piece originally appeared on www.ccweek.com.

As Resources Dwindle, College Leaders Look to Innovation

Today’s community college leaders face challenge and opportunity on many fronts. Numerous colleges face flat or declining enrollments; government support is waning; increasing numbers of students enroll with multiple remedial needs; the completion agenda looms large; and the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) calls for colleges to be active partners with industry and government in creating certificates that lead to job placements. To successfully meet these challenges and to optimize the opportunity that lies within every community, an entrepreneurial mindset and framework is needed.

People often think of entrepreneurship as primarily job creation. While this is a valuable outcome, Donna De Carolis, dean of Drexel University’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, offers a more expansive definition: “Being entrepreneurial is essentially about thinking and doing something that we have not done before, in order to achieve a desirable goal or outcome. It is about assessing a situation, designing alternatives, and choosing a new way — or perhaps a combination of ways — that we hope will lead us to something better.” (Forbes, 2014, January) In other words, entrepreneurship provides a framework for community colleges to think and act on challenges in a way that will lead to systemic, sustainable change in local and regional ecosystems. Entrepreneurship, both as taught in the classroom and used across the institution, involves problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, and lean use of resources. Entrepreneurship should be considered as one of the 21st Century’s essential work skills.

The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) serves 300 colleges across the United States that tap multiple entrepreneurial tools — including the entrepreneurial method — as well as Lean Startup, Innovation Labs, Fab Labs, small business development centers, incubators, and other resources to underscore the diversity of approaches colleges, students and community members can pursue to leverage the power of entrepreneurship.

As a thought leader and resource provider, in 2011 NACCE developed the Presidents for Entrepreneurship Pledge (PFEP), which offered five steps college presidents could commit to further entrepreneurship at their institutions. The five commitments are:

• Create or expand internal and external teams dedicated to entrepreneurship.

• Increase entrepreneurs’ engagement in community colleges.

• Engage in industry cluster development.

• Leverage both community college and community assets to spur innovation and job creation.

• Create “buzz” and broad exposure of their college’s commitment to entrepreneurship.

In 2014 the validity of the PFEP was confirmed through an independent survey of more than 900 college administrators and faculty that was funded by the Coleman Foundation. The assessment clearly demonstrated that the PFEP has had and continues to have a significant impact in the way community colleges act and perceive themselves as entrepreneurially minded institutions. The question for college leaders – How?

To answer this question, in April 2015 at the 95th Annual American Association of Community College (AACC) meeting, NACCE held a breakfast in which 20 community college presidents gathered to learn about the results of the PFEP assessment, and to focus on three areas of challenge and how entrepreneurship could help them meet these challenges.

The first challenge identified was enrollment. Ideas for meeting this challenge included developing a model program for a two-year certificate, focusing on burgeoning academic areas like bio-science and showing colleges how to create start-up incubators.

The second challenge identified was retention and the completion agenda. The ideas discussed here focused on fostering best practice alignment with high schools, teaching the entrepreneurial mindset as part of student success in high school and college, and engaging the business community to increase work-based learning experiences and internships.

The third issue centered on budget and revenue challenges, and the presidents engaged in some creative discussion of alternate revenue sources, including developing maker spaces and incubators and raising private funds to support college ventures. NACCE will hold its annual national conference in Houston in mid-October and will focus preconference workshops and breakout sessions on these topics.

Beyond brainstorming ideas with thought leaders, NACCE member colleges are walking the talk of entrepreneurship in regions like Appalachia. The federal government has provided funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to support economic development efforts in this region. NACCE senior leaders are working directly with 11 colleges in Appalachia and their surrounding ecosystem partners to develop an individualized strategic plan for success. We know that an entrepreneurial approach works well in rural areas of the country and in states like Kentucky, which has been hit hard by layoffs in the coal mining industry.

In Arkansas, Barbara Jones, the president of South Arkansas Community College, demonstrated an entrepreneurial approach when unemployment rates surpassed 10 percent and a local mayor introduced her to Winrock International, a nonprofit organization focused on international business development. The resulting partnership created the Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC). Funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the AWBC provides technical assistance, training, and access to capital services for entrepreneurs. South Arkansas Community College demonstrates the efficacy of this model in which the community college plays a key role with industry leaders and other partners to access government funding to create new programs that lead to job creation.

Likewise, Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community & Technical College System, led the construction of a $9.2 million Center for Advanced Technology, a 30,000 square-foot advanced manufacturing training center serving the industrial training needs of manufacturers in Northeast Louisiana. This was part of a statewide initiative in which the Foundation for Louisiana Community & Technical Colleges worked closely with Louisiana colleges and their individual foundations. The total cost of funding 29 projects on Louisiana college campuses was $34.3 million, 12 percent of which had to come from local fundraising efforts. The money for the Advanced Technical Center was raised by working hand-in-hand with area corporate and municipal partners to achieve local investment and buy-in.

In late July of 2015, the NACCE Board of Directors met in Washington, D.C., to discuss its vision and strategy for the future. The board re-affirmed its commitment to the President’s for Entrepreneurship Pledge (PFEP) as the framework to spur innovation on campus and in classrooms to turn enrollment, completion, and budget challenges into opportunities. The board committed more resources and support to foster innovation by offering leadership training and new tools designed to guide college leaders in their efforts to partner with industry, government, foundations and others to close the skills gap.

Entrepreneurial thinking provides a logical framework for community colleges to address issues in their local ecosystems and in their own institutions. By providing education and training, forging new partnerships that foster economic growth, and creating innovation hubs where entrepreneurs can thrive, community colleges are furthering sustainable economic vitality and health in rural, suburban and urban communities across the country.

Rebecca Corbin was named president & CEO of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship in January 2015. She has served as a senior community college administrator for six years and is currently completing her doctoral studies in Organizational Leadership and Innovation at Wilmington University in Delaware.